The Wisconsin Science Festival will return this year, from Oct. 17 - 20, with over 200 events produced by various state institutions including the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The festival, held annually since 2011, is working alongside more than 160 hosts across the state to offer science-based exhibits and demonstrations for all audiences. Last year, it ensured that anyone living in Wisconsin could attend an event within an hour’s drive and boasted about 33,000 attendees.
UW-Madison joins the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the Morgridge Institute for Research and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in producing the festival.
The idea for the festival first started almost 10 years ago, when director Laura Heisler was working with WARF to build the Discovery Building at UW-Madison. As she was brainstorming her vision for the building, from “building connections to all different disciplines” and making science “meaningful to researchers as well as the broader community,” she and her co-founder heard about science festivals happening across the country to meet these same goals and decided to launch one in Wisconsin.
UW-Madison has been involved with the festival ever since. The Discovery Building hosts the Discovery Expo, which features three days’ worth of hands-on activities, and the Big Ideas for Busy People talks. This year, the short, quick-hit talks will focus on water conservation.
“The researchers on campus really have a ... belief in the Wisconsin Idea to engage with the whole state in what they do,” Heisler said. “We benefit from the connection with the university because we get to help bring all of the amazing research going on here out into the world.”
UW-Madison will host several events at its museums and public education centers, including two panels on Oct. 17 and 18. The first, “Who Owns Science?,” will discuss participation in and exclusion from science, according to a university press release. The conversation will hopefully be focused on young “scientists of the future,” Heisler said in an interview, questioning who has had a seat at the table in the field of science.
“Whether the topics relate to equity of opportunities in STEM, cultural norms or fresh perspectives, we design these sessions to be accessible to the university community,” Heisler said in the release. “They take place during the course of the school and work day to encourage the campus community to participate.”
The second, “Science in Entertainment and the Arts,” will question how scientists can engage with the public through entertainment media.
The festival also reaches K-12 students across the state. Over 2,700 students attended festival field trips in 2018. Similar numbers are anticipated this year, allowing students to travel to UW-Madison or the Discovery Expo to participate in interactive activities. Heisler said similar numbers are expected this year, with some coming from as far as Merrill.